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Gerda Steyn sets South African marathon record in Italy, Reid Coolsaet runs 2:16

The Xiamen Marathon in Siena, Italy, was one of the last chances many athletes will have to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics

Photo by: Instragram/gerdarun

Eighty runners lined up in Siena, Italy, on Sunday morning to race the Xiamen Marathon, an elite-only event that marked one of the final opportunities to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Kenyans Eric Kiptanui and Angela Tanui took the wins in PBs of 2:05:47 and 2:20:08, and South Africa’s Gerda Steyn set a national marathon record of 2:25:28. In his first race in more than a year, Canada’s Reid Coolsaet finished well off the Olympic standard of 2:11:30, crossing the line in 2:16:38.

The winners 

Kiptanui won the race by 10 seconds, edging out Ethiopia’s Abdi Fufa for first place. He bettered his PB by 30 seconds, improving on a 2:06:17 showing from his marathon debut in Dubai in 2020. His result is the second-fastest ever run on Italian soil, a minute off the all-comers record set by his fellow Kenyan Titus Ekiru at a race in Milan in 2019, which he won in 2:04:46. 

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While Kiptanui fell short of the Italian all-comers record, Tanui did not, and her 2:20:08 winning time lowered the mark of 2:22:25, which Kenya’s Vivian Kiplagat also set in Milan in 2019. Unlike in the men’s race, which was relatively close, the women’s race saw a big gap between first and second place, with Tanui crossing the line more than two and a half minutes ahead of the next-closest runner. On top of setting the Italian all-comers record, Tanui also lowered her own PB by a whopping five minutes. 

Steyn’s national record 

In recent years, Steyn has proven to be one of the best runners in South African history. She set the Comrades Marathon up-run course record in 2019, becoming the first woman to break six hours in the storied event with her 5:58:53 winning time. That same year, she ran to an 11th-place finish at the New York City Marathon (a race less than half the distance of the 87K Comrades Marathon), running 2:27:48.

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In 2020, Steyn ran to a seventh-place finish at the elite-only London Marathon, where she posted a new PB of 2:26:51, which was the second-fastest marathon result in South African history. This year, she was set to run the NN Mission Marathon, but her plans changed when the event was pushed from April 11 to April 18 and moved from Germany to the Netherlands. 

Fortunately, the Xiamen Marathon accepted her on short notice, and she ran a new South African marathon record of 2:25:28. She looked to have great chances of being named to the South African team headed to the Tokyo Olympics before Sunday’s race, but with her result in Italy, she has likely officially booked her ticket to the Summer Games. 

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Coolsaet’s run 

As Coolsaet said on Instagram, his goal for the Xiamen Marathon was to run 2:10 and qualify for the Canadian Olympic team. After a strong start and opening half, he fell off the pace and faded in the final quarter of the race. “I went for it but simply didn’t have it,” he wrote on Instagram. He ran through the halfway mark in 1:05:16, just off his 2:10 goal pace, and he said he was optimistic he could maintain that speed. 

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Coolsaet stayed on pace until 27K, which is when he said the “wheels slowly fell off.” Five kilometres later, he knew a 2:10 and Olympic standard were well out of his reach, and although he wanted to quit, he continued to run toward a 2:16 finish.

RELATED: Reid Coolsaet runs under Canadian 5K masters record in solo time trial

“I considered dropping out but thought of my kids and didn’t want to quit just because things weren’t going my way,” he wrote. As much as it stings that things didn’t come together I’m proud I gave a serious effort at 2:10 and grateful that I had an opportunity to race. It would have stung much worse had I not even had a chance to toe the line.” 

Due to travel restrictions and limited racing opportunities in Canada and around the rest of the world, this may have been the last chance for Coolsaet (and any other runners who missed the Olympic standard on Sunday) to qualify for the Tokyo Games. 

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